The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

From a Law-Enforcement Veteran, Common Sense About Dealing with Immigrants

By Rob Waters on November 2, 2009 - 4:19 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Why is it a bad idea for local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration cops? Because it undermines public safety.

William J. Bratton, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, explains why in this op-ed essay that ran last week in the Los Angeles Times. He also explains his decision not to have the Los Angeles Police Department participate in the program known as 287(g), which gives local law enforcement agencies the powers of federal immigration agents by entering into agreements with Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“Americans want a solution to our immigration dilemma, as do law enforcement officials across this nation,” Bratton writes. “But the solution isn’t turning every local police department into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Bratton brings to the immigration debate a few things the immigrant-bashers lack, namely credibility and a track record. As he prepares to step down as LAPD chief, he is drawing praise from officers, politicians and the public for reducing crime — in a city with a huge immigrant population.

“Keeping America’s neighborhoods safe requires our police forces to have the trust and help of everyone in our communities,” he writes. “Yet every day our effectiveness is diminished because immigrants living and working in our communities are afraid to have any contact with the police. A person reporting a crime should never fear being deported, but such fears are real and palpable for many of our immigrant neighbors.”

Bratton notes that the Police Foundation, a law enforcement research group, issued a report earlier this year concluding that when local police enforce immigration laws, it “undermines their core public safety mission, diverts scarce resources, increases their exposure to liability and litigation, and exacerbates fear in communities that are already distrustful of police.”

  • Jim

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for immigration. “Legal Immigration”. If not for immigration I wouldn’t be here, nor would most of you. To live in a free country we assume a certain amount of risk. The opportunities and blessings we enjoy, so far, have outweighed the risks. But with those risks we assume a certain amount of responsibility to ensure those risks are minimized as much as possible. To do otherwise is irresponsible. As many good people as there is moving into our country, there are many others who move in to do us harm, either by overt acts such as terrorism or drug running that we know all too well or those who just move in to take advantage of the system, looking for a free ride from my hard earned tax dollars. By the very act of entering the US illegally, shows a lack of respect for the laws of this country. That’s not who we want here. And the more we allow to stay, and give government aid too, the worse the problem becomes. It’s like a game – as long as they can get past the BP Officers, they are free to stay. So, what to do? Pull our BP Officers off the border and out of harm’s way? Throw open the gates to everyone? The system we have isn’t perfect by any means, and desperately needs to be streamlined for those who desire to become productive citizens. But because of the security measures we have in place to screen and document immigrants, we have the safest country in the world, and that’s why everyone wants to move here. So, until we come up with a better, safer system this is what we have. And until the laws are changed, I for one will continue to enforce them. And by the way, I’m greatful for all the BP officers, Customs agents, CIA and all of the others who put their safety on the line every day to ensure mine.

  • mountaingirl08

    Are you all aware that Francis Marion aka The Swamp Fox said 2 B the basis of the Mel Gibson character in “The Patriot” used to hunt Native Americans 4 sport? It’s been said that that was the reason Gibson didn’t use the Francis Marion tag in the movie. Come 2 think of it, Gibson might not consider hunting Jews & other groups he disliked as being morally reprehensible behavior. When caught hunting ppl he would say he was sorry, plead addiction, & ck. in2 rehab.

  • Tim

    And, no one has answered his question, yet. Has anyone in the SPLC actually spent time in an immigrant detention center? I do not believe that local law enforcement should be actively seeking out illegal immigrants. However, I do believe that the question ANYONE’s citizenship should be broached and acted upon should there be any doubts. The fact is, we have immigration laws, and they must be enforced – when there is probable cause.

    Another thing – Immigrants are not a race nor ethnic group – it is a description of a group of people. Therefore, Francis cannot be a racist. Neo-Nazis are a group of people. You guys call them stupid all the time. Using your logic, Snorlax, aren’t you a racist? :) Wait, wait … don’t tell me! If it is a group that you guys like or feel bad for, then it’s racist. Right? In any case, I don’t like calling people racist unless their actions meet the definition.

    However I can, on the other hand, call you “stupid” for not owning a dictionary so that you can know the definition of the word “racist”. You can also be considered a jerk for simply flinging insults at people that you don’t agree with.

    Liberals wonder why they are not taken seriously, and why their messages aren’t getting across. Snorlax, just look in the mirror and read your comments. That’s the answer.

  • Snorlax

    Francis Marion Brainfart thinks immigrants are “stupid” and are all criminals.

    Obviously, he’s a blantant racist and his opinions in here are worthless.

  • Carter

    Come on now, anyone who has ridden uniformed patrol in any jurisdiction knows that if you follow someone long enough they will give you a reason to stop them.
    What’s they payoff for constantly asking Mr Hernandez or Mrs De La Vega if they have a Passport or citizenship papers? You’ll have a longer shift to show for less Felonies because you’ll be tied up asking people if they are a tourist or over-staying their Visa and set up a fear factor, doing someone else’s job.
    You could further extrapolate and say; “To Hell with ATF, DEA, ICE – I can do it all because the law exists on the books, it’s mine to write up”.
    Fed Gov made these agencies to take specific roles for specific reasons. No jurisdiction can appropriately handle the overflow of certain issues without creating gaps in Community Based policing. The problems faces in the 1960’s that lead to community rioting centered upon alienation from the LE provider!

  • beholder

    The studies I mentioned have been well documented and are available via the Internet: Harvard, Princeton, and UIC are just a few of the first-tier university studies that demonstrate the social benefits of “illegal” immigration. The term itself is an emotionally charged misnomer: these are neither aliens nor illegals. No human is illegal, and a person residing in America is a resident and deserves the same principles of justice and proper adjudication as any citizen. This is a sacred principle of our Constitution, confirmed multiple times in the Supreme Court, and heralded as one of the distinguishing factors of the modern liberal state. To do away with this protection is the most heinous of crimes: put aside the mere impracticality of it, look at the morality. These are people working and living among us, doing very little harm, much good, and are generally positive contributors to society. So again, it is a misnomer and misleading to portray the very large undocumented segment of our society — a permanent segment I might add — as somehow posing a risk to anyone at all.

    When boiled to its bitter essence, the truth of nativism in America is that opposition to immigrant populations of all designations and origins generally rises in periods of economic turmoil. Once exposed, the facts yield significant advantages for the American population due to the presence of these so called “illegal” residents. Moreso would be the benefit if these individuals, or many of them, could be brought into the legal fold and free law enforcement from the compulsion to take part in social activism and instead fight real crimes, the ones described in your post.

    Do not however come with a number of widely debunked stereotypes about undocumented immigrants and expect them to be viewed as valid ideas to be exchanged. There are strong roots of liberty in our land still, this great nation of immigrants!

  • Jim

    I certainly respect the opinion of a veteran police chief. I myself am a law enforcement officer. Given that I must say I disagree with the message of turning a blind eye to law violators. Following Chief Bratton’s train of thought shouldn’t we then allow drug pushers and drunk drivers, gang members and thieves to to go about their criminal activity so they too can feel more comfortable around the cops? This may be an exageration but you get the message. Where do we draw the line? It’s a hard job, but isn’t that what we are paid for – to put away law breakers? That’s what the citizen’s are paying me for and I can’t just walk away from that duty for the sake of an easier shift.

  • White Refugee


    I lived for three years in the Oakland ghetto (only white face for blocks); and I am not sure how any police person could come to the conclusion that these communities had any thing remotely resembling a perception that law enforcement had any integrity, or concern for protecting society. In fact when I would report any crime, i was the laughing stock of the street, for being so naive as to believe the police (pigs in their words) gave a damn about investigating my complaint. Pity the police didn’t bother about proving my neighbours wrong either.

    Not sure what its like in other cities or ghettos, but thats what it was like in oakland, in late 90’s.

    Anyway, its your country of course, you need to decide what you want your policies to be. I just hope for your sakes, you don’t make the mistake we South Africans did, believing all the politicians lies and rhethoric, and now 15 years later finding out it was all a dog and pony show, for Nobel Peace Prize medals….

    Good luck anyway..

  • Bob

    It would NOT be that difficult for the locals to call ICE and have the offenders dealt with. After a while, the problem would be self-correcting and the impact would be even less.

    But, in direction violation of the law, many want our law-enforcement to look the other way. I call that being a partner in crime!

  • Matt

    As a police officer, I am not in favor of being cross-trained as an ICE agent. Working in Utah, I arrest “illegal” immigrants for various crimes. I also investigate complaints by the “illegal”, non-naturalized immigrant population. It would jeopardize the integrity of law enforcement in protecting society if I was hindered by people not wanting to report the crime.
    I hope Utah, a state with an ever burgeoning immigrant population,will reject the cross-training of police officers as ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would have applied for their ranks. If, by chance, my department chooses to adopt this policy, I will be its most vehement opposition.

  • Francis Marion Braidfute


    You/SPLC failed to answer my question about spending time undercover in a detetnion center.

    Are you saying that someone who works in a university as a professor or some academic, knows better the motives and intentions of an immigratn, than the stupid immigrant themselves?

    Please can you provide me with these numerous studies htat have shown lower incidents of crime in immigrant communities, both documented and undocumeted compared to citizens.

    I have swalled Dobb’s hook? Sorry, I don’t have a television and have never watched Lou Dobbs, but I have spent quite allot of time with immigrants, lived in the ghetto next to them, and spent some time in an immigration detention center.

    Just think for a moment: if you risked everything you had for a chance at freedom and prosperity, would you throw it all away by getting yourself into trouble with the law?

    You clearly have no idea, about ‘risked everything for a chance at freedom’ and prosperity; do you? For one, how many of these immigrants risked standing up for democracy int heir own countries? How many of htem risked taking contraception, so that they would not risk bringing unwanted and unloved children into the world? For those who made aforementioned risks, fine, they are worthy responsible citizens to consider for legal immigration, for the rest, you are being bamboozled and they are laughing at the ignorant white liberals whiteys… but go ahead, it is your country, and take a look whats going on in south african whites in our rainbow nation, and in 30 or 50 years time, you too will be begging canada to accept you as white refugees..
    PC Canada vs. Immig. & Refugee Board & Huntley: How many SA Black on White Crimes are Racially Motivated?: Your Life is In Danger, SASucks

  • Patrick D. Cottrell

    The chief should not use the lame excuse that he doesn’t want to alarm and alienate the immigrant communities of L.A. for not wanting his officers to participate in the 287G program with I.C.E. The chief knows that’s not correct! The officers working with 287G authority can’t arrest and incarcerate an immigrant for illegal status ONLY anymore than an I.C.E. agent does today. This type of information is a disservice to the hundreds of officers across the nation who are trying to help their communities by having the authority to take an illegal immigrant who has been arrested for a crime into custody for a violation of their immigration status. This holds the individual in jail w/o bond until they can go before a federal magistrate to answer the charge. We all want something done about the status of millions of people in our country without citizenship and putting fear into them of the police arresting them based solely on their illegal status is not doing the city of L.A. or the immigrant community any good. They should not fear the police IF they haven’t broken the law of the state where they reside and work. If an immigrant has false documents of citizenship or for example has stolen the identity of Chief Bratton or a member of his family and they have written bad checks or been arrested for traffic violations or any other crime and released, I’m sure the chief would appreciate an officer of another community who has 287G authority arresting this individual for the crimes against the state of California and holding that criminal without bond pending their appearance before a federal magistrate? Wouldn’t YOU want them held without bond until they answered the state and now federal charges against them? Southern Poverty Law Center, please tell us you aren’t going to say the chief honestly has the common sense answer to the question of our U.S. police officers obtaining 287G authority? We need to focus our attention on getting citizenship for the millions of good hard working immigrants who deserve to be here but we can’t ignore the criminals praying on our citizens either.

  • Carter

    I live in Arizona and in my neck of the woods we don’t have to deal w/ sheriff Joe .
    We all know that the bottom line is that if we have deputies doing the work of Boarder Patrol we have less services locally.
    The toughest part of the problem is that Mexican nationals come from an environment that has some DAMN crooked cops. Therefore a lot of folks don’t trust law enforcement & crimes get under-reported, etc.

    Realistically – the undocumented immigrant problem will take care of itself. MANY nationals are going back to Mexico because the jobs that were up here are being lost. Fewer & fewer jobs exist for unskilled labor.

    I live pretty far south and I picked up a guy the other day who was hitch-hiking to the store and he said a lot of folks are getting $ from their relatives in Mexico now until they can get back o their feet or come back!!!

    If they don’t live in a Northern boarder state like Senora, they have a LONG way to go to get back home. With a serious possibility of no work; it’s a dumb gamble –
    VERY few guys are going to the Mid-West because there IS NO jobs for anyone there!

  • Snorlax

    Somebody needs to pass out copies of this article at the next meeting of the Sussex County Long Island Board of County Commissioners.

    They’re the New York version of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

  • Kate De Braose

    I would like to propose a new federal law regarding immigrants who come here and are welcomed by businesses only because they can pay those workers an unfair wage.

    If anyone is welcomed into America to solve our hard and dangerous labor problems, there should be a legal route to citizenship through a green card for those persons. For any nation to operate in any other way shows an unfair and very ugly immorality. This better route to citizenship is already offered for persons who enter the military. In fact, I know people who came here legally, who were inducted into the armed forces immediately.
    Nobody should be forced to live here constantly in fear of police. It makes our boasts about being a free nation seem false indeed!

  • Marisa

    Geat article. I live in Arizona, where “The Toughest Sheriff in America,” Joe Arpaio “rules” – thanks to a bunch of idiots who continue to vote for him in each election. He needs to read this article….not that the meaning would sink into his thick skull.

  • Wendell Franklin Wentz

    Great article!!! State and local authorities should leave the immigration issue up to the Federal Government where it belongs. In the meantime, the wall on the Rio Grand should be torn down, and there should be no borders. A world without borders so people can go where they want to travel or live. By the way, there nobody in the world is illegal. Amen. -Wendell Franklin Wentz

  • chris

    I try not to read blog/message board comments nowadays because NEGATIVE comments usually outweigh POSITIVE comments. And you can be assured that if the topic is race/religion/immigration that is the truth. So that is why after reading only ONE comment,I posted this. I agree with “beholder”.

  • Potter

    “Yet every day our effectiveness is diminished because immigrants living and working in our communities are afraid to have any contact with the police. A person reporting a crime should never fear being deported, but such fears are real and palpable for many of our immigrant neighbors.” Amen Brother! Imagine a cop wanting to focus on serving and protecting.

    A very real aspect of illegal immigration is that of human trafficking (i.e. slavery). As anti-immigration/anti-Latino forces “fight” illegal immigration, real criminals are engaged in slavery using people who do not feel that law enforcement will help them. An overwhelming percentage of these people are women and children. They are victims. They are also people. Asian massage parlors, eastern European gambling-prostitution rings to rural fields in the USA use and exploit slaves. If these “patriots” really care about illegal activity of and including illegal immigrants, they could utilize their time and resources eliminating human trafficking in all its forms.

    But then again, it might just be that they just don’t like Spanish speaking, dark skinned immigrants who willingly cross the border.

  • beholder

    Did anyone else see this new attempt to fan the flames of nativist hatred by World Net Daily? It’s in there amid the lessons on how to kill with your bare hands and signs of the Second Coming, you know, the usual WND fodder.

    Alipac (Americans for Legal Immigration) is at it again. Progressives and sensible people must unite now to push back against this monumental ignorance.

  • dave varez

    I understand the reasoning why wholesale use of the police department is not advantageous in dealing with immigration issues.

    But I certainly think that if a person is detained for drunken or dangerous driving or in the course of the investigation of a serious crime their immigrastion status should be determined and acted upon.

    It is one thing to be sympathetic to non violent / non dangerous people who have JUMPED THE LINE and entered illegally while others who obey the rules wait.

    It is quite another thing to ignore those among them who in addition are undesirable to society.

  • dona

    Great article, I want my police to protect me from dangerous criminals. For those of us that live among a large population of Latinos, the profiling has an effect on all brown people, American born or otherwise. Stop trying to burden our law enforcement workers with more duties other than protecting us. Immigration issues should be left to Immigration. There is illegal immigration issues being dealt within the jail system.

  • beholder


    Numerous university studies have shown lower incidents of crime in immigrant communities (both documented and undocumented), compared with citizens. These are fact-based statistical studies comparing census data with prison data. Not opinions.

    Perception is not reality, and unfortunately you seem to have swallowed Dobbs’ et al’s hook. Can you not see how this issue is simply political capital for dummies? Anyone confronted with the facts who still bashes immigrants over crime wants to be duped or to dupe others. There is no other explanation than that.

    Just think for a moment: if you risked everything you had for a chance at freedom and prosperity, would you throw it all away by getting yourself into trouble with the law?

  • Brad Hoover

    Imagine if every local law enforcement entered into an agreement with DHS and participated in the 287(g), program. Wouldnt that federalize our police force in some ways? On one hand I understand the value of coordinating services, on the other hand, I also value the ability to be distinct. There’s got to be a balance that doesnt open the door to a national police force…and a national ID.

  • Francis Marion Braidfute


    Has anyone working at SPLC, ever spent some time undercover in an Immigration Detention Center?

    Just curious where you get your ‘authoritative’ opinions about the legal/illegal intentions of detained immigrants from?

    Just curious.

  • beholder


    Would it be too much to ask for nativists to at least get their facts straight?